You are the angel that absorbs people’s memories of nightmares
His mind is full of dappled whirring red and blue stars wrapped around concentric panes of shattered glass. A meaty thump and then blind eyes staring up into the heavens, the aftermath of an explosion inflated bag dangling limply like a placenta. He stares blankly ahead. A blaring of a wolf in the distance, roaring atop a guzzling engine, whipping metal in pistons and whirring with the blood of things that had been born and died long after I had been.
I don’t like these sorts of dreams. Where it’s just a memory, super imposed over dozens of iterations. How strange that the mortals find their own ways to torment themselves, years after the fact. With a finger, knotted, too many joints, distorted by the operating system of the man’s mind, I banish the moment from his consciousness again. His wife, rotting beside him, disappears in a flurry of mistakes and consequences.
His child is gone before he can turn himself around, stunned, obnoxious. I turn, as I have turned far too many times before for this man, and begin to take my leave. My left hand unravels into longest strands of night, the pitiful humanoid form stretching and
His eyes, stunned in the memory-dream, snap open, and he stares at me.
Our eyes meet. Mine, many, varied, dozens, stretched by the transition. His, half dazed, pained, confused. Lucid.
“I’ve seen you before,” He says, slowly. Rolling his neck so he can pull it up from the tatters of the steering wheel, already fading from vision. “Haven’t I?”
“I have been here many times in the last few years,” I confessed. Because there would be no memory of this either. I was just as much a part of his nightmare as he was.
And I consumed memories. It was what I did. It was what was inscribed, in the heavenly tongue, across the tresses and loops and sprawled like clumps of DNA in cognitonic caresses of my ontological cells.
And I would consume this one as well.
“You have…” The man said. He slowly tilted his head, turning to look at the seat next to him. “You… You always take her first.” A hand reached up to his neck. Felt across the cuts and lascerations.
They were never enough to take his life. No matter how many iterations had passed, he never died in this dream. We both knew he never would.
We both knew why.
“Why do you take her first?”
I tilted my head, full of stars and whirring red and blue lights, and my voice was like the distant howl of the ambulance of wolves pawing at the door. “She died first, you know.”
“And then,” The man asked. His eyes slowly flicked behind him. A shredded seatbelt. A stain of blood.
“They die next,” I confirmed. “So I took them from you.”
“Do you always take this from me? Every night?”
“I do,” I said. “It’s my job.”
“Every night I wake up covered in sweat, the memories in my head, but not the dream,” The man wondered aloud. “Do you take this from me?”
“The dreams of mortals are aberrations. Tortures conjured by their own mind, flights of fancies derived from complex processes in the brain, backscatter from half formed memories,” I recited. “It is my job, lowly lovely Suriel, to clean their minds so they may wake again and make new memories.”
“And I give you the same memory every day,” he said.
“You do,” I replied.
“I’m sorry,” He said. “It’s just… I can’t…”
“There’s nothing to apologize for,” I said. “It’s routine now. your mind is not the easiest I encounter, but it is… mundane. Your sins are easy to read. Your regrets are transparent.”
“Transparent?” He asked, cocking his head to the side. “What does that mean?”
“You wish that something else could’ve happened,” I said. “But you dream, every night, of how it did.”
“I guess I have a lack of imagination,” he admitted. “To be stuck on just one thing.”
The long stretch between dreams faded, and I turned to look at him instead, my right half raveling back into the figure of night. Other dreams could wait, if just for a moment.
It was rare I had a conversation last this long.
“Do you want me to take this from you?” I asked. “You are stuck, that’s true, but…”
I gestured with a hand, and the corpse of his wife appeared next to him in the seat again. “There are many traumas that will anchor you in this world. I have seen far worse than a car accident. But understand that far worse does not denigrate or demean your suffering. The mortal mind was never meant to hold such raw power and passion as the emotions you possess, remember Adam and remember Eve, and you will suffer for it.”
“I think I should let go,” The man said. “But I see their faces in the mirror, and every time I close my eyes I think of the thump of flesh, the shattering of glass. That moment, half in and out of consciousness, where I could do nothing but lay there, half dead, and watch them die with each thump of their heart.”
“That is your curse,” I said.
“I don’t like it,” He said. “And it’s… wrong. To make you see that. It’s mine.”
“All nightmares are mine,” I said.
“They shouldn’t be. They’re private and… surely you feel pain seeing this?” He gestured, now fully lucid, at the blood. At the screaming. The bystanders frozen in place, unable to do anything. A photograph of suffering, entombed forever, shackled, imprisoned in his neural pathways.
I did not quite understand. The memories all flowed through my head, catalogued with cold precision.
I did not have the passions of the mortals, nor the blazing heat of the greater seraphs. I was not blessed to be seen in the light of day, and yet I did my task without pause.
“Does this not hurt you?” He asked. “My nightmares are not as bad as others, like you said. Doesn’t seeing them, over and over again… doesn’t it hurt?”
“Perhaps…” I trailed off. Trying to remember the first day I had been born. Had I even existed really before the first nightmare, or had I been conjured as a second thought to help? Had it been so long? “It’s my job.”
“Do they even know you exist?”
“I take away the pain,” I said.
“And when it comes again and again?”
“I take away the pain,” I said.
“Do you linger in the heads of veterans? Tragedy victims? Do you see their horrors?”
“I take away the pain,” I said.
“Do you do anything else?” he asked. Breathless. His chest was heaving. He must’ve been in pain again, the circumstances reminding him of that tremoring moment.
But I couldn’t feel anything except the cool caress of sleep and the burning sickness of the night.
“This is my job,” I said. “I take away the pain. There is always someone sleeping, and there is always more work to be done.”
His eyes flicked to mine, my dozen gleaming amethysts jet black in the reflection of the unborn sun, and I wondered what he saw reflected there.
“Does anyone know you exist?”
“I need no thanks. I need no adulation,” I said. “I was born for this job, and this job alone. There is nothing more that needs to be done. I have been around as long as your species has, and I will linger until the last night that your kind sleeps.”
“Isn’t that lonely?”
“I have never been alone in the dreams of mortals. I have their experiences to frolic through. I have their pains to devour. I will always have those things,” I confessed.
A pause. “You’re going to leave now, aren’t you?”
“I am. There are many more places to go.”
“Can I at least know your name?” he asked.
“Suriel,” I replied. “Other nightmares await, however.”
A pause. He laughed, half broken. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“As always,” I said. “Until then.”
and I devoured the rest of that nightmare and moved fluidly into the next soul’s suffering.
The man awoke inside of the prison cell he had been in for the last five years, the name of an angel on his lips, and thought he could hear the crying of the man next door cease just that much more.